AIF, Florida Chamber Divided on Casino Gambling, Taxes for Online Travel Companies, and Obamacare?
Around the State
Of Florida's 1,100 business advocacy organizations, the two largest and best-known are undoubtedly the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Each has released its legislative agenda for the 2013 session: Where do they agree, and where do they differ?
“I'm not sure there are too many differences,” Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber, tells Sunshine State News. “We both invest in trying to elect pro-business candidates, though we don't always agree on those candidates. We're both fighting for job creation and less government interference in the private sector.
“Our legislative agendas, as best I can tell, are about 99 percent the same.”
That “1 percent” of difference would include the following:
The Florida Chamber has long been implacably opposed to the expansion of casino gambling in the Sunshine State, a matter on which AIF has taken no position.
“We're not anti-gambling. We support the gambling that is already going on in Florida: the pari-mutuels, the Seminole Compact, and the lottery,” Wilson explains. “Our position is, let's support the businesses that are already here, before we just start opening up ourselves to people in Malaysia and Las Vegas.”
Asked whether that opposition smacked of economic protectionism and was contrary to the Chamber's free-market agenda, Wilson pointed to what he said were the devastating economic impacts that Vegas-style casinos bring to their communities.
“The facts are so clear: Nowhere in the world have they proven that when they come into a community they actually add value to it,” he insists. “If you could show me one place in the United States – other than a desert where there was nothing else to begin with -- where these types of casinos add jobs, add tax revenues, and add to the growth of the small-business sector, we'd be open to the conversation.”
The two business behemoths may duke it out in 2014, but during this fact-finding year, the Legislature has vowed not to take up any gambling bills.
Taxation of Online Travel Companies
AIF supports the imposition of so-called “service taxes” on online travel companies, arguing that the absence of such a tax puts bricks-and-mortar hoteliers at an unfair disadvantage. The Chamber disagrees.
“We don't believe they should pay a service tax, just like you don't pay a service tax when you use a travel agent,” Wilson explains.
On Monday morning, a lobbyist for AIF strongly implied before a state Senate committee that his organization was inching toward endorsing Medicaid expansion. Wilson says the Florida Chamber's board of directors would be meeting this Friday to discuss the matter, but that in the past the Chamber has opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), including the law's provision for Medicaid expansion and the establishment of state-based health exchanges.
Will this “1 percent” of differences be the proverbial bad apple that spoils the batch of friendly relations enjoyed by AIF and the Chamber? Wilson sure doesn't think so.
“It's a lot like the military; there's different branches that have different roles, that really work together to support the mission of free enterprise,” Wilson says. “Our lobbyists work together and we're glad to have AIF working alongside us pushing for the same goals.
The Chamber released its priorities on Jan. 16, and AIF released its own over a month later, on Feb. 27. Here's some of what the two groups are agreed on:
Citizens Property Insurance
While neither organization is explicitly calling for the state to remove itself from the business of providing property insurance, they both are calling for the state to set the cost of participation in Citizens at “more actuarially sound” rates, the better to prepare the state should it suffer a severe hurricane season in the near future.
“AIF continues to support efforts to return Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to an insurer of last resort and reduce the likelihood of claims paying deficits that will result in 'hurricane taxes' assessed on the 77 percent of Florida homeowners who are not Citizens policyholders,” AIF says in its Jan. 16 press release.
“Unless fundamental reforms are made, Florida is only one expensive storm away from a severe threat to our way of life,” the Florida Chamber says in its report, “Where We Stand: A Guide to the Florida Chamber's 2013 Business Agenda.” “If Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is not reformed, Florida’s policyholders will be left with billions in assessments, commonly known as the Hurricane Tax.”
Both organizations support the gradual elimination of both the corporate income tax and the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment.
Both also support enforcement of the Internet sales tax, contending that the present statutes – which put the onus on paying the tax on the buyer when he purchases from an Internet company based out-of-state – place Florida's brick-and-mortar businesses at an unfair disadvantage,
Both organizations support investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree programs, the greater proliferation and deregulation of charter schools (the better to accommodate parental choice in education), and the expansion of virtual education opportunities for K-12 students.
The Florida Chamber and AIF, and the business community generally, support efforts to change Florida's expert witness standards. A bill sponsored by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee would change the standards by which Florida judges admit expert testimony. Under the current "Frye" standard (named after a 1923 U.S. Supreme Court case), expert witness testimony can only be admitted if it is "sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs." The proposed bill would align Florida's courts to the federal "Daubert" standard (named after a Supreme Court case decided in 1993), which admits expert testimony so long as the judge finds it to be based on scientifically sound principles.
Both organizations also support proposed changes to Florida law which would no longer allow bad faith suits to be brought against an insurer by individuals who are not policyholders.
No one from AIF was available to interview for this story before it went to press.
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (954) 235-9116.